Haiti’s Parliament gets new quarters

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their homes in the 2010 earthquake continue to live in squalid tent camps. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Officials inaugurated a new building for Haiti’s Parliament yesterday, more than 15 months after an earthquake destroyed the national assembly’s headquarters.

The $700,000 prefabricated structure, built on the site of the destroyed assembly building, gives the 129 newly elected representatives a place to conduct business. Until yesterday the reps were using makeshift facilities as they coped with rebuilding the 20 percent of the country devastated in the January 2010 disaster.

During our recent visit to Haiti, photographer Bob Roller and I saw a team of construction workers hurrying to finish the building so that the new leaders would have a place to work. Reconstruction elsewhere lagged, however. Large mounds of debris and collapsed buildings were common throughout the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding areas.

Hundreds of thousands of people remained in tent camps in parks, public land and vacant lots. People we talked with held out little hope of moving from the ragged settlements. Many rolled their eyes and smiled when asked about their choice of candidates in the election.

This morning pop singer Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly was confirmed as the winner of the March 20 presidential vote. He outpolled former first lady Mirlande Manigat by more than two-to-one as Haitians turned to his populist message out of frustration over the lack of progress in the rebuilding effort under outgoing President Rene Preval.

Martelly will be inaugurated May 14.

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, said that $1.7 billion in contributions from countries around the world has been disbursed since March 31, 2010. The money represents 37 percent of the $4.6 billion pledged during a meeting at the U.N.

The commission reports that another $1.6 billion has been committed.

Those funds are in addition to the estimated $1 billion collected for humanitarian efforts by dozens of nongovernmental organizations since the quake.

The disaster claimed more than 300,000 lives.

The sky is not the limit

A silhouette of the space shuttle Endeavour with a view of the Earths horizon taken in Feb. 2010. Photo courtesy of NASA.

VATICAN CITY — Space, the final frontier. Even for the pope.

Pope Benedict will have a satellite linkup with the International Space Station on Wednesday May 4 at 5:30 p.m. Rome time to mark the final voyage of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

One of the astronauts aboard the Endeavour, Italian Colonel Roberto Vittori, will also be bringing a special gift from the pope to the space station crew: a silver medallion, reported the Prefecture of the Papal Household today.

If you haven’t seen the space station orbiting above the Earth yet, you can track it here on this site.

College Theology Society endorses Catholic Theological Society statement on Fordham professor’s book

Leaders of the College Theology Society have endorsed a statement from the Catholic Theological Society of America in the fray over a widely used college textbook written by a Fordham University professor.

In a statement posted on the CTS website, 12 of the organization’s 14 board members said the CTSA raised widely shared concerns about the criticisms of St. Joseph Sister Elizabeth A Johnson’s book addressed by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.

The bishops have said the book, “Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God,” contained “misrepresentations, ambiguities and errors” related to the Catholic faith.

The CTS describes itself as a “professional society of theologians, solidly rooted in the Roman Catholic tradition and with a strong commitment to ecumenical collaboration, dedicated to teaching theology at the undergraduate level.”

Saying that its membership includes a significant number of younger faculty and graduate students in theology, the organization’s leaders said they were especially concerned about the “chilling effect” the doctrinal committee’s stance will have on younger colleagues.

“Instead of cultivating a culture of open collaboration and mutual dialogue between bishops, theologians and the people of God in the advancement of a deeper understanding of the faith, the document of the Committee on Doctrine … breeds disillusionment, fear and mistrust among younger theologians in their relation to bishops and increasing sadness and fatigue among more seasoned scholars.”

The CTS statement also said the doctrinal committee’s statement “threatens to undermine the credibility of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy” in collaborative work across faiths.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, chairman of the doctrinal committee, explained in a follow-up statement to his fellow bishops April 18 that prelates are responsible for teaching and preserving the Catholic faith and thus are bound to respond to the work of theologians if they perceive the faith is being portrayed in error.

Helping the Japanese carry their cross

At the request of their members in Japan, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have put together a special Stations of the Cross for the healing of Japan. When you get to the link, scroll down to read the stations.

A note from Sister Leonore Coan of the congregational mission office said the sisters in the quake-stricken country “have not asked for supplies or financial donations for the people they serve. Instead, they have asked that we stand as one with them in healing prayer.”

Sister Michele Vincent Fisher, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, wrote a special text to go along with stations that include photos from the aftermath of the March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

Vatican releases guest list for blogging conference

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has released the list of 150 Catholic bloggers who will be attending a one-day meeting designed as “the beginning of a dialogue” between church officials in Rome and the blogosphere.

Among the better-known English-language bloggers attending the May 2 session are Anna Arco, Elizabeth Scalia, Paolo Rodari, Rocco Palmo and Thomas Peters. Our own Carol Glatz will be participating for Catholic News Service.

The meeting is being sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Pontifical Council for Culture. Richard Rouse, who works at the council for culture, said the Vatican had to choose from more than 750 requests from would-be participants. In making the selections, they tried to ensure a broad representation.

“There are some famous bloggers and some new bloggers, some are institutional, others personal, some tell vocational stories and others comment on international news or local issues. Some are well-financed, most are run on a shoestring,” Rouse said in a statement.

While some pre-choices were made, he said, for the final selection they simply gave each blogger a number and had someone choose numbers randomly.

“I hope those not on the list will not feel excluded. The bloggers present in the room will surely keep you informed and engaged. They may even organize a livestream,” Rouse said.

The Vatican made clear — lest there was any doubt — that it will not be covering the participants’ travel expenses. And it added the kind of disclaimer one might expect from the Santa Sede: “Selection to attend does not imply Vatican approval of the contents of any of the blogs.  Neither does non-selection imply disapproval.”

Capturing the lives of monks in British Columbia

This Side of Eden,” which premiered Palm Sunday on Canada’s Salt + Light Television, has gotten great reviews, and viewers around the world have more chances to watch the documentary about the monks of Westminster Abbey in British Columbia. News flash: Not all of the monks are old!

Father Raymond J. de Souza, writing in Toronto’s The Catholic Register, called it “another Salt + Light gem” and said, “The producers have captured more than just what the monks do, but something of who they are.”

Also in The Catholic Register, writer Michael Swan said, “Filmmakers wanted people to feel the connection between liturgy and life at the abbey.”

Here is the schedule for “This Side of Eden” on Salt + Light, EWTN and Boston’s Catholic TV. In addition to the following viewing times (all Eastern time), the broadcasts will be streamed live through each carrier’s website.

Salt + Light: April 20, 8 p.m. Note that Salt + Light is available through SHAW Channel 160, BellTV channel 654, Telus channel 159.

EWTN: April 19, 5:30 p.m.; April 23, 11:30 p.m.

Catholic TV: April 20, 3:30 p.m.; April 22, 8 a.m.; April 23, 1:30 p.m.; April 24, 5:30 a.m.

Vatican newspaper launches new website

VATICAN CITY — Marking the beginning of the seventh year of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican newspaper launched a new website.

The site, initially available only in Italian and English, debuted last evening as this morning’s issue of the newspaper rolled off the presses. Today is the anniversary of Pope Benedict’s election in 2005.

The newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said eventually it plans to have not just the daily Italian edition online, but also to post the English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish weekly editions as well.

Today the Italian site — and an English translation of select articles from it — was available for free. A story in the newspaper yesterday said the weekly editions would be available online to subscribers only, but articles from the daily Italian edition could be accessed free until Aug. 31 when the site will become subscription-only.